Something about patents

Too much words have been used for expressing the harm patents can cause to innovation. Even huge corporations like Google and Oracle (at least in 1994 they were) or even Microsoft (when they only had 9 patents in 1991) are known discouragers of patents. In 2006 Microsoft filed its 5000th patent and in 2009, only 3 years later, this number has doubled. These big corporations use patents not to stimulate their innovation, but to defend themselves from other big corporations who might eventually sue them. This seems to be an easier approach than checking the trillions of patents that have been filed before.

Oh, I take this personal

The first touchscreen devices were brought to the market 20 years after a patent application for touchscreens. Imagine yourself with touchscreen technology from 2030. Yup, could have been you today. Or do you wonder why you can’t buy your playstation 3 today? Did you know that whenever you buy an android HTC device, some of your money goes to Microsoft?

Becoming one of them

I’m starting my own company soon. No big news, just a small step towards a bigger picture. As I have noticed that these companies started to have a huge patent portfolio I thought I should write my arguments down so you can confront me later if I would have gone mad.

  • Patents are expensive. Not only the registering itself is expensive but you will have to pay for a lawyer to translate your idea in the right words or it will be worthless. Once you’ve actually bought the patent you still have to hire a team of lawyers to check on other companies yourself, because there is no such thing as a patent-police, and finance the lawsuit yourself. For small companies this is infeasible, unless that’s your business model.
  • Everyone wants to protect their intellectual property. It’s normal: I don’t want to see another company filing a patent-application using my idea and suing me over it! In Europe however there’s no need to buy defensive patents. This is because in Europe we have a «first to invent» policy. This means if you have a patent and another company can proof they have had the idea before you, your expensive patent is worthless. Just make sure that whenever you have had a great idea you can proof it. There are various ways of doing that: you can write it down and put it in a timestamped locker, you can tell everyone (the best way for an idea to mature is telling it over and over again) or you can simply apply for an «open» patent.
  • If your company is innovative you won’t need any patents. Once you actually implemented a great idea (otherwise you wouldn’t think about a patent) it will be too late for other companies to start exploiting this idea as well. In the end, ideas are worthless, you need a vision.
I agree that for some other markets where ideas need over 20 years of research and development, prior art won’t simply cut it. Taking a patent however in current legislation is rarely used for the good (read: stimulating innovation). Therefore, as with the copyright system or the federal government-system of Belgium, reform is needed: everyone is aware of this, it has been assigned to someone and no one is ever going to do something about it.

– Pieter

P.S.: I might be wrong. If so, I would be pleased to be corrected in the comments or on the twitters

One comment

  1. Javache

    Well, you can’t really patent an idea, only a technical implementation of an idea (and there’s a lot more legislation and exceptions)

    For some companies, patents make sense. You’ve spent a lot on R&D and in exchange for disclosure of your solution to the general public, your company receives the time-limited exclusive right to produce that solution. An example of this is the medicine industry.

    Software patents are a different story, and luckily the European system makes a little bit more sense than the US one on that matter iirc.

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